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Monday, 06 September 2010

My Cantilevered Life

(Or How to Live Like a Princess with No visible Means of Support)

By Lyn Burnstine of The Lynamber Times

Once, many years ago, another woman and I bought a crafts center together and tried with disastrous results to run it as a folk music venue, arts and crafts gallery, and store. It was a dream I’d nurtured for a long time - to run coffeehouses two nights a week without having to rent a space and move all of the equipment every time, as I had for years previously.

We were amazed that in the Seventies, two single women were able to get a large mortgage, with no visible means of support between us. The venture nearly ruined me, but it did provide further training in how to live with style and ingenuity on almost no money.

Some of my tutors in acquiring this knowledge have been my friend Joyce who taught me about thrift shops and food super-bargains, and my late sweetheart Carson who introduced me to garage sales.

My friend, Nina, at the Office for the Aging, alerted me to all the advantages of being old and poor: government subsidized housing; lowered Medicare payments and phone bills; a home health aide; New York State drug coverage; and free legal help, farm market produce and exercise classes.

Survival has become a game that I play very well - not with shame, but with pride. I have fun finding the amazing bargains that I do. It pained me to have to pass by a fine wool jacket by Christian Dior (for one dollar at Goodwill) but even though just what I needed, it was three sizes too small. It tickles me to have someone say, “Now, you didn’t get that at Goodwill, did you?

Recently a friend reported that another woman had said to her, “Lyn is always so fashionable!”

Being a Depression-era baby, my upbringing was to not waste anything. That was later strengthened by observing my millionaire mother-in-law’s habit of saving every scrap of food to make mouth-watering soups.

One of my hobbies is nutrition - making a game of eating as well and as healthily as possible on very limited funds. It can be done. It merely involves shopping the sales, buying slightly past due dated fruits and vegetables. (My friend Kala calls it the “used fruit and vegetables” bin.)

The lovely bonus is that those produce items are from the more expensive vine-ripened, hydroponic and organic bins. They do have to be eaten quickly, but since the store is only a mile down the road, it is no problem to shop often.

It also involves observing a semi-vegetarian diet and cooking almost everything from scratch. It is well that I love to cook and never got into the habit of buying many prepared foods. Part of my nutrition game is to try to eat at least five, preferably seven, servings of fruits and vegetables everyday. That, combined with good grains, leaves just enough room for the additional protein and calcium requirements I get from dairy, chicken and fish.

I don’t miss red meat and my weight stays in control - an added benefit. (We won’t mention chocolate. A girl’s got to have one sin, and besides the dollar store has candy bars for fifty cents sometimes.)

After starting to write about food, I was diagnosed with celiac disease, a genetic intolerance to the gluten in wheat, rye and barley. It has added yet another challenge to my eating and spending patterns.

Trips to Friehofer’s second-day bread and baked goods store are no longer an option, and, since alternate grain foods are prohibitively expensive in the health food stores, I am re-learning to bake, using rice, corn, potato and tapioca flours. A garage sale purchase of a gently-used breadmaking machine came at just the right time, so now my kitchen is sometimes filled with the heavenly aroma of fresh-baked bread.

Now I ask you, does this life sound deprived?

A large part of my ability to live elegantly lies in the “kindness of strangers,” - well, not really strangers, but my generous family and friends, who treat me to meals out, airline tickets, vacations, new computers, gift certificates and even, miracle of miracles, the Metropolitan Opera!

I do hope I earn, or at least deserve, this largesse. When, in spite of thrift and frugality, an unexpected bill arrives - usually because something breaks: a tooth, my car, my computer - and I have to dig into my rapidly-disappearing savings, I just repeat my well-used mantra: “It’s only money, it’s only money, it’s only money.”

I once confided to a friend my worry that I had caused a money problem for one of my kids by staying on in an affluent neighborhood after my divorce, where our sudden impoverishment meant that there was no money available for my child to lead the same privileged life as the neighborhood kids.

My friend said “Lyn, you are the last person in the world whose life I would label as ‘poor’ or ‘impoverished.’ You are one of the richest people I know.”

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Lyn, I loved reading about your elegant and rich life. As I'm contemplating retirement and worrying about living on a reduced income, this was just what I needed to remember, that being I can live well on less. I was also reminded that a friend of mine called the day-old bread store in town the used bread store, just like your used fruit and veggies.
Humor also helps us live well.

It is hard work paying attention to detail and finding a good bargain and it is just as noble and perhaps an even more responsible lifestyle than the kind that throws money at every desire.

Lyn, I feel that you are indeed worthy of of any and every largess that your spirit generates. You walk your talk in living a life of a person who truly understands prosperity and the value of a dollar. As well, you set a fine example for the youth in your family. Bravo and thank you for sharing your tips!

Lyn, thanks for a great post. My hat's off to you. Since neither my husband nor I like to cook (I'd go so far as to say I detest it), I won't ever save as much on food as you do, but I can certainly relate to finding terrific bargains at Goodwill, Value Village and similar stores. I view it as recycling--a good thing. I seldom buy new clothes any more; when I do, it's at a big discount. My weakness is items for our condo (I enjoy decorating), but if I can't find it at Goodwill, Target and Ikea have great sales.

I'm still working part time, but living on less is in our future, for sure. My husband and I have already scaled back considerably. Fortunately, we aren't world travelers, we're basically healthy and we don't have an expensive lifestyle (except for 3 beautiful cats).

Thanks for taking the time on a holiday, dear friends, to respond. I like to say "I was green when green wasn't cool." Glad to see more young people developing an awareness of less waste. We need SO much more.

Lyn: I am always so impressed with your writings. I have lived the same like of life you did only I did auctions and going out of business sales. I had a small variety shop and bought and sold the things I purchased through these avenues, like sewing machings, glassware when restaurants went out of bussiness, etc. I bought low and sold at a profit, but also kept many of the bargains myself. Thanks for your sight into all these venues for saving. Johna Ferguson

Thank you, Johna, My pleasure to write and share, so I'm glad you get pleasure from reading it.

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